“How can I make the world a better place? Music provides comfort in times of sadness, loneliness, or despair, it inspires us to expect more of ourselves, it calms us down. If I could make that song that helped a person in any of these ways, I feel that I have succeeded in some small way.” – Reuben Kee En Rui
My sophomore year of high school was a time of great transition. It was one of those years that you simply must categorize as one of those momentous page-turners, the crescendo between the resolution of one chapter and the beginning of the other. Dramatic? Oh hell yes. It was 2004 and I was constantly discovering. New friends, new skills, new obsessions; they seemed to crowd my view, offering new avenues at every turn. I’d even begun dabbling in game design. Nothing spectacular; just a few piss-poor attempts at creating side-scrolling shooters; like Metal Slug, but devoid of fun and stuffed with tedium. Shortly after I began this new adventure, I discovered Final Fantasy VII. It set a new standard of excellence for me; especially with its soundtrack. I’d never heard anything so soulful, so evocative of feeling and memory, despite its dated format. I wanted to implement this in my games. I thought, surely, a memorable score will distract the players from its mediocrity. That’s when I discovered OverClocked ReMix, a legion of talented men and women honoring the music I’d come to love with remixes.
All I needed were a few solid tracks to rip from their database and I’d be set. It was there, on that site, that I discovered Reuben Kee En Rui. He was a native to Singapore and he wasn’t much older than me. 19 at the time, I think. I wasn’t sure what to make of him, but I knew that he’d remixed one of my favorite songs from Final Fantasy VII: “Cosmo Canyon.” At first I thought, “Oh God. There’s no way this could be better than that one dude who rocked this on the electric guitar. Hot damn.” Seconds after I pressed play, everything changed.
Breath caught in my chest and all I could see were the red cliffs of the canyon. I felt more than I heard. It wasn’t a remix. It was a completely revitalizing re-imagining. What began as a soft, delicate piano melody swelled and grew into something powerful, primal. It moved and pulsed, like it was alive. Final Fantasy VII’s music had wooed me, but Reuben’s rendition stole my heart. It took everything – the moment in time dedicated completely to those four minutes spent in another world. I regretted the judgment I’d passed before. I assumed him to be young and inexperienced, like the other fanboys with internet access that I’d come across – those who had the passion for the game, but lacked the dedication to the craft. I forgot about my project. It was ill-fated anyway (thought it did win best action game at computer camp.)
I loved being so thoroughly incorrect, and he continued to prove me wrong as I explored the rest of his work. He’d remixed plenty other classic tracks from Chrono Trigger and Metal Gear Solid. While the collection available to me on OC Remix was not massive, each song was a perfect homage to the original and I was thrilled that such a skilled pianist had applied his talents to an overlooked genre. Too often do we hear the techno remix or the mash-up; the parodies abound. I was tired of synthesized sound and over-mechanized scores. Reuben Kee put music back in the music and assured me that video games were more than levels and boss fights. There were compositions here that needed to be honored, and Reuben treated them with reverence.
I drifted away from OC Remix, but returned to hear Cosmo Canyon every now and then. I’m ashamed to say that college drew me away from the site, and I abandoned it as soon as classes began. It wasn’t until I’d accepted my diploma and hung my cap and gown up for good that I eventually returned and visited Reuben’s profile one afternoon. A slew of unusual comments on his page alarmed me. Farewells and prayers. I did my research, hoping that I had misinterpreted the chatter. I have a terrible habit of assuming the worst. Unfortunately, I was not wrong.
Reuben Kee En Rui was gone, killed suddenly in a boating accident during the 2007 Cambodian Tonle Sap competition. Several men died in that race, including four of his teammates.
In an instant, I was back in my room, hearing “Ascension to Cosmo Canyon” for the first time and I just couldn’t believe that the artist behind such an awe-inspiring piece of music was gone. A man halfway across the world, a man I’d never met, instantly became someone close to me and I couldn’t understand why. But there were hundreds more flooding the OC Remix forums, sharing the same inexplicable sentiment. He’d been known by so few, but loved by many. We felt like intruders, awkward and uncertain of our next actions. But the sadness was earnest and those brave enough to admit this did so without reproach from their peers. We were all at a loss. Clearly, he’d touched so many people. What was the appropriate response?
Selfishly, I mourned the songs he would never compose, the tributes we would never come to accept. I knew there was more to him than music, and that was perhaps the hardest part to swallow.
He spent his weekends teaching disabled children how to swim. He was a member of the Singapore National Dragon Boat team. He was fluent in English and Chinese. He was a creator within the M.U.G.E.N. community and a potential game designer. He had a mother, father, and sister. He was a man with talent, dreams, and a gift he shared so unselfishly with the world.
He loved to play the piano.
“He was a very responsible boy. I don’t spoil my children, his keyboard was the most expensive thing I had ever bought him. He made good use of it, teaching himself how to play and giving other people lessons as well,” –Mr. Frankie Kee (Reuben’s father) to Asia One News
It’s difficult to explain the value of a man like Reuben Kee if one never comes to understand the power and intimacy of music. You feel like you know a person when they reveal their rhythm. Yes, he had original work and yes, it was just as mesmerizing as his video game music. His website does a far better job of explaining the feeling I’m trying to convey with words. Best to let the music do the talking.
What happened to Reuben and his companions was tragic. What’s perhaps even more terrible is the thought of losing his legacy entirely. He left so much of himself behind that we have no excuse for letting his memory fade. Hell, I’ve had “Ascension to Cosmo Canyon” playing on a loop for days and each time it begins anew, it’s as if I’m hearing it for the first time.
So today, I give Reuben the thanks I should have expressed years ago, when he was still with us. I never commented on his work publicly. I never sent him an e-mail expressing how his music touched me. I wish I had, and I still regret thinking that the praise of the other fans was enough, that they’d speak for me. Perhaps it’s a petty thing to think, but still I think it. I never knew him, and my condolences to all those that did.
This is my apology, and a gift to Reuben: a promise that I will do my best to keep his memory and his music alive.
Reuben was born on July 9, 1984. He would be turning twenty-six today.